By Renata Bessi and Santiago Navarro F
“The spirit that we have is that the territory should be for those who care for it, who inhabit it, who produce the food, who look after the water and the common goods. This is in contrast to a model that intends to create an infrastructure of mining and extraction of petroleum at the expense of the peoples that have historically inhabited these lands.”
In spite of strong repression, the campesinos, indigenous peoples, and African descendants of the Cumbre Agraria, Campesina, Étnica y Popular de Colombia (Agricultural, Rural, and Ethnic Peoples Summit of Columbia) have sustained a national strike for more than ten days that began May 30, 2016. Up until now the toll has been 3 indigenous people dead, 200 people injured, and 105 more facing criminal charges.
“Three indigenous people have been murdered by the Fuerza Publica del Estado (the Colombian military and national police). The response of the police has been savage repression”, said Sandra Rátiva, member of the Peoples’ Congress, one of the 13 organizations that make up the Cumbre Agraria, in an interview.
In at least 70 strategic points in 24 states throughout all of Colombia, demonstrators are maintaining blockades of the principle routes that connect the country to South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. There is participation in the strike by more than 100,000 indigenous people, rural inhabitants, African descendants, and other marginalized sectors of Colombian society, and other social sectors like students, academics, and international solidarity groups are now joining the movement.
The strike is a response to the disregard of Decree 870 by the National Government of President Juan Manuel Santos, which was signed May 8th, 2014. The agreement took into consideration the demands of the Cumbre Agraria, which were aimed at creating a mandate for quality of life improvements, for structural agricultural reform, sovereignty, democracy, and peace with social justice, revisiting eight points: lands, collective territories, and territorial legislation; a self-determined economy against the model of displacement; mining, energy and rural life; cultivation of coca, marijuana, and poppy; political rights and guarantees of justice for victims; social rights; urban-rural relations; and peace, social justice, and political solutions.
“From 2014 to 2016 the government has not fulfilled this first round of negotiations, beginning with the disregard of the 8 points. It is for this reason that since August of 2015 we decided to begin preparations for this national strike. We call ourselves the Jornada de Minga Nacional (National Conference of Collective Labor). We call it collective labor because we all contribute something to this action,” explained Rátiva.
At the time of this interview, the 9th of June, as a result of the refusal of the government to enter negotiations, the spokespeople of the 13 organizations of the Cumbre Agraria met in Gualanday, in the state of Cauca, to plan strategies to continue the strike, and to discuss points over which to negotiate with the government. “The government has produced false statements about supposed regional negotiations, affirming that we don’t presently have the goodwill necessary to negotiate. Their objective is to fragment the movement,” added Rátiva.
Photos by Congreso de los Pueblos
No Guarantees of Safety
While the Minister of the Interior, Juan Fernando Cristo, has declared that the government would provide full guarantees for the legitimate exercise of social protests, his declarations contrast sharply with reality, as repression is already being endured. “The minister has given the order to evict the blockades without regard for either our intentions for negotiation, nor consideration of our petitions that seek a series of just policy transformations in the rural areas of the country. The response of the state has been strong repression and they have tried to divide the movement, offering small concessions in a few regions where they didn’t have a presence before the strike,” said the militant of the Peoples’ Congress.
Furthermore, the Colombian Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded that the authorities of the country explain the deaths of the three indigenous people during the strike. “The facts should be brought to light by the judicial authorities, and our office offers full support in doing so. It is imperative to adopt all possible methods to avoid the possibility that situations like these repeat themselves,” declared the organization in a statement published on its website.
Cumbre Agraria and Resource Extraction
In 2011 Columbia signed a Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada. A similar agreement followed in 2012 with the European Union.
“In Colombia, as in Mexico, we have a very strong neoliberal model. We have had fourteen free trade agreements signed, and the WTO, IMF, and World Bank are demanding compliance with these agreements. There has been a massive advance of the transnational agricultural and energy industries. In Colombia, President Santos has said that one of the principle drivers of his development project is precisely the engine of mining and resource extraction. It has to do with extractive projects of enormous magnitude in both the mining and energy sectors,” argues Rátiva.
“There is a strong resistance from the urban population, the campesinos, and the black and indigenous communities to the extractive projects of mining and hydroelectric energy. For example, in the west of Colombia there is resistance in the municipality of Valdivia, where the Movimiento Rios Vivos (Living Rivers Movement) is fighting against the construction of dams and the choking of our rivers, which, as in the rest of the country, are part of the extractivist model. In the rest of the country there is a latent threat of mining and it makes up part of the reason for why we have mobilized. Because the spirit that we have is that the territory should be for those who care for it, who inhabit it, who produce the food, who look after the water and the common goods. This is in contrast to a model that intends to create an infrastructure of mining and extraction of petroleum at the expense of the peoples that have historically inhabited these lands,” emphasized Rátiva.
From noise demonstrations and cultural activities to forums and mobilizations, diverse sectors of Colombia have demonstrated their solidarity with the strike.
The 4th of June saw a meeting of the Comisión Política de las Asociaciones, Organizaciones and Pueblos Indígenas (Political Commission of Indigenous Associations, Organizations, and Peoples) affiliated with the Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (National Indigenous Organization of Colombia) who denounced the militarized response of the state to the actions of the Cumbre Agaria and also announced actions to strengthen the movement. “We continue in collective labor, in all gathering places, until the national government gives constitutional guarantees of the legitimate exercise of the right to protest,” said the pronouncement.
Also the research group, Conflicto, Región y Sociedades Rurales (Conflict, Region, and Rural Societies) of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana declared their solidarity with the Cumbre Agraria. They assure that as researchers of rural issues they are well aware of the problems faced by campesinos. “We see with concern the negligence of the government, the delaying tactics, and the lack of real solutions to the problems of rural Colombians. We support the Cumbre Agraria because from our work and as a result of multiple research projects that have been done about rural Colombia we’ve been able to verify that this country needs to solve the structural problems of rural life.”
The Cumbre Agraria was created after a similar repression was experienced during a strike in 2013. “The farmers’ strike of 2013 received a lot of solidarity from the urban sector, but also suffered violent state repression. And so in 2014, the Cumbre Agraria was formed, the most important space of national convergence in Colombia,” added Rátiva.
Translated by Scott Campbell